Tokamachi and nearby Tsunan Town are host to the Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale, an art exhibition that occurs once every three years. If you aren’t sure where to start with this sprawling art festival, we recommend the below exhibitions. (Please be advised some business hours are subject to change depending on the season.)
Museum on Echigo-Tsumari (MonET)
The Museum on Echigo-Tsumari, or MonET (pronounced mone-ay like the artist) for short, is considered the starting point for the Art Triennale. From the moment you step in, you will be surrounded by art. In fact, the shallow pool of water found in the center of the museum, is an artwork in itself! This contemporary art museum hosts many iconic Echigo-Tsumari art pieces on the second floor and includes a gift shop and café. Plus, you may get to see a live radio broadcast during your visit, because the headquarters of FM Tokamachi are located in MonET!
Hachi & Seizo Tashima Museum of Picture Book Art
This former elementary school is located in Hachi, a village surrounded by mountains. Seizo Tashima, a picture book artist, transformed this school after its closure into a small museum. He created a story to accompany his new museum called “The School Will Never Become Empty,” featuring the last three students attending this school called Yuki, Yuta, and Kenta. Seizo Tashima even imagined monsters living in the closed school. Visitors can experience the story for themselves as they explore the space of this walk-in picture book museum. We encourage you to come and meet the three last students as well as the monsters living in the school including Toperatoto, the laughter-eating monster, and Doradoraban, the destroyer of dreams!
Museum closed during winter.
Tunnel of Light (Kiyotsu Gorge Tunnel)
As part of the 2018 program, MAD Architects was invited to revitalize the Kiyotsu Gorge Tunnel – a historic, 750-meter passageway that cuts through distinctive rock formations, offering panoramic views over one of Japan’s three great chasms. Drawing on the ‘five elements’ of nature (wood, earth, metal, fire, water), MAD’s scheme transforms points along the historic tunnel through the realization of several architectural spaces and artistic atmospheres. The designs rethink the relationship between humans and nature, and seek to re-connect locals and visitors alike with the majestic beauty of the land.
Tunnel closed in winter. Please visit website for more information.
Matsudai Joyama Art Complex (surrounding Nohbutai)
Next to Matsudai station is one of the main areas of the Art Triennale known as the Matsudai Joyama Art Complex, which features many recommended artworks scattered on the mountain side near the Nohbutai building. You will find installations created by world-renowned artists on the road up to the Matsudai Castle Ruins. These artworks are blended into the rich nature of this area, allowing the visitor to feel all four seasons of the area with their entire being. This is practically a textbook definition of the Art Triennale, whose concept is “human beings are part of nature.” This area can be traversed in about 1-2 hours total.
Dine Inside Art
Echigo-Matsudai Satoyama Shokudo
This restaurant is found inside Nohbutai near Matsudai station. The floor-to-ceiling windows give you a panoramic view of the terraced rice fields. The unique light blue interior space is created by Jean-Luc Vilmouth: photographs taken by local residents are hung on the ceiling and reflected on the round table surfaces, giving you a sense of being embraced by the nature of Matsudai. On the menu is cuisine entirely local to Matsudai, using locally-grown produce and wild edible mountain plants, or sansai. Enjoy your view of the fields while partaking in their harvest!
Located in the Museum of Picture Book Art, this café can be found inside one of the classrooms of the abandoned school building. All the produce used is locally-grown and sourced and served in delicious dishes and desserts that have satisfied many guests who have come to visit the museum. The menu is inspired by Seizo Tashima’s picture book artwork, making customers feel almost as if they are a character in one of his stories.
Sleep in Artwork!
Many of the art pieces in the Art Triennale double as lodgings. If you find that just a day trip isn’t enough, why not stay the night?
House of Light by James Turrell
This beautiful work of art was designed by James Turrell, an American artist famed for his interpretation and manipulation of light as an art medium. The main room of House of Light includes a sliding roof panel that opens to reveal the gorgeous sky above. The room itself can change color to match the sky and create a beautiful room of light. Day visits are of course welcome, but there are also plans for those wishing to stay overnight. Please book in advance as this is an incredibly popular artwork!
Katakuri House is an accommodation in a renovated old school from the 19th century, located in the hidden scenic area of Akiyamago, which served local children for 108 years until its closure in 1992. Staff members enchanted by the abundant nature and history of Akiyamago look forward to welcoming visitors with comfortable rooms and delicious food.
Photo Hiroshi Noguchi